HC Deb 03 March 1964 vol 690 cc1131-6

The follow Question stood upon the Order Paper:

52. Mr. WALL

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the West European Fisheries Conference.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Question No. 52.

The European Fisheries Conference, which has met in three sessions under my chairmanship since 3rd December, 1963, concluded its work yesterday. At its final session a majority of delegations adopted ad referendum the final text of a Fisheries Convention together with a Protocol of Provisional Application, and certain ancillary agreements. The conference also passed resolutions on Fisheries Policing, on Conservation, and on Access to Markets. I am arranging for copies of the Final Act of the Conference, to which the texts of the relevant documents are annexed, to be placed in the Library of the House.

The Fisheries Convention enables signatory States to regulate fisheries within a 12-mile zone from the baselines from which their territorial seas are measured. Fishing is to be reserved to the fishermen of the coastal State within the inner six miles subject to a short phase-out period for foreign fishermen who have traditonally fished the three to six-mile zone.

During the conference, my delegation agreed with the other countries principally interested in the duration of this phase-out period so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. It will be until 31st December, 1965, except where straight baselines or new bay closing lines are drawn, where it will be until 31st December, 1966.

Within the outer six miles, fishing is reserved to fishermen of the coastal State and to those States which have habitually fished in the area between 1st January, 1953, and 31st December, 1962. Such foreign fishermen will be restricted to stocks and grounds which they already fish and subject to regulation and policing by the coastal State. The Convention will be open on conditions to be agreed for accession by other countries which were not represented at the conference.

It was agreed that any straight baselines and new bay closing lines should be drawn in accordance with the rules of general international law and, in particular, of the Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea, 1958. I am placing in the Library of the House a copy of a map indicating our broad intentions in this matter.

The Convention is open for signature between 9th March and 10th April, and 13 delegations indicated that they would recommend their Governments to sign it. I am sorry that the delegations of Norway and Iceland, and the Danish delegation in respect of the Faroes and Greenland, were unable to accept the Convention. The Convention will, of course, remain open for accession by these and other States. The position of Denmark in relation to the Faroe Islands raises urgent and special questions on which a statement will be made by my right hon. Friend within the next few days.

So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, legislation will be necessary to give effect to our acceptance of the Convention and will be introduced as soon as possible. The signature of the Protocol of Provisional Application will enable early effect to be given to the new regime of fishery limits without waiting for ratification of the Convention by all signatories.

Mr. Wall

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative in calling this conference, which has achieved far more than the two previous international conferences at Geneva? May I ask whether the question of access to markets was discussed? Is he aware that countries who do not sign this Convention must expect to have restrictions placed on their access to British markets?

Mr. Thomas

The question of access to markets was discussed, but any possibility of a more general agreement embracing trade as well as fishery limits could not be proceeded with because the Convention was not accepted by a number of countries and the six countries of the European Community felt unable to make or accept any suggestions on trade matters until they had agreed among themselves a common fisheries policy.

Mr. Hoy

We thank the hon. Gentleman for his statement. It is usual for copies to be made available to the Opposition of statements of that length, but they have not been supplied on this occasion. The hon. Gentleman will understand, therefore, if I put some questions to him arising from his statement, but, at the same time, reserve the right to ask for a debate on the whole matter in the near future.

First, may I say to the hon. Gentleman that we welcome—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question''] We offer the hon. Gentleman our congratulations on the decision about the limits, but is it not a fact that the whole agreement is weakened because it does not apply to the Faroes, to Greenland, or to Iceland? Is he aware, for instance, that the Scottish middle-water fleet, which derives an income of £2 million from this area, will experience a cut of at least half of that amount as a result of this agreement? Is he aware that this decision does not meet with the approvea1 of the trade or of the trade unions concerned? Is he aware that they have made a decision to introduce a quota for landings from the Faroes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question"] Well, it was a long statement.

Will the hon. Gentleman consider holding bilateral talks with the Faroes to see whether a settlement can be reached in this respect between ourselves and the Faroes, and any other countries who may wish to enter into conversations of that kind?

Mr. Thomas

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if he had not a copy of tn5 statement before I made it to the House. I was told that the Opposition Whips had two copies before 3 p.m. I apologise if that is not so. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it was my intention that he should have those copies.

I said in my statement that the question of the Faroes raises urgent and important matters and that a statement will be made by my right hon. Friend within the next two or three days. Perhaps I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that the position of the deep-water fishermen remains as it was before. The Convention has not altered their position. Our agreement, for in stance, with Norway and our agreement with Iceland still remains. I agree that the position of the Faroes is something which we shall have to decide A statement will be made later this week.

Mr. G. R. Howard

Is my hon. Friend aware that his statement will give great satisfaction to many people in this country who want to increase all limits? May I take it from the statement that vessels, driftnet fishermen and trawlers of our own nation will be able to fish within these limits, especially round the Cornish coasts?

Mr. Thomas

I think it right to say, although this is a matter for my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture, that this convention does not affect the right of British fishermen to fish where they normally fish now. It is our intention that they should carry on fishing to the extent they have done before within our waters.

Mr. Crosland

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this conference, as many of us predicted, has turned out to be a total and frustrating waste of time for a large number of very busy men in many countries inasmuch as an extension of our limits could have been accomplished without this elaborate conference, whereas the middle-water and distant-water fleets gain nothing at all?

Will he convey to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—who surely ought to have been here on the occasion of this statement being made —the fact that now he has no further excuse for delaying? He ought to come out with a long-term policy and plan for the future of the industry without any further delay.

Mr. Thomas

I totally disagree with the hon. Member. If he suggests that it is a waste of time to reach agreement among the countries principally concerned in Europe, I disagree. If he suggests that we would benefit, in place of an association with all the countries of Europe, by making a unilateral move, and that this would be preferable to arrangements reached by agreement, he is wholly wrong.

If the hon. Gentleman is interested in our near-water fishermen I point out that they will benefit by the signing of the agreement from the extension of internal waters in an area where the straight base lines and new closing lines across bays have been drawn. They will have exclusive rights within a six-mile limit from 31st December, 1965, where the limit is drawn from low-water mark and after 31st December, 1966, where it is drawn from straight base lines and the new bay closing lines.

In addition, foreign fishermen outside the six-mile limit will be restricted to the stocks and grounds they already fish and be subject to regulation and policing by British authorities. To say that an agreement on these lines is a waste of time is absolute nonsense.

Sir J. MacLeod

Is my hon. Friend aware that this will certainly make a difference to the economy of the seven crofter counties? Can he say whether the Minch and the Moray Firth will be closed under the agreement?

Mr. Thomas

I have arranged for a map to be placed in the Library, but I can say for the benefit of those who would like to know immediately that it is our intention that the Minch should be closed. It would not be possible, under the 1958 Convention, to close the Moray Firth, but there is a bay closing line in the Moray Firth.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that Britain's foreign competitors have been allowed, owing to the negligence of the Government, to get away with unilateral action to the prejudice of the British fishing industry? Can he give any assurance by either the long, complicated statement he has read, or otherwise, that steps will be taken to protect the British fishing industry from that unilateral action? Alternatively, will he give an assurance that Britain will take unilateral action to protect the British fishing industry?

Mr. Thomas

I cannot understand the hon. and learned Member. In one part of his question he said that it was wrong to take unilateral action and Britain should do something about it—I do not know whether he meant that we should go war—and in another part he said that we should take unilateral action ourselves. Our hope was to reach agreement and I am happy to say that it looks as though we have reached it.

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